Graduate School or No?

I saw an interesting article on linkedin discussing whether to attend graduate school or not. Most of the points in the article are things that resonate with me. But here’s my take on graduate school.

A while back, I thought about getting an MBA. I knew quite a few people back in Japan who were going for their MBA’s at Temple University. It seemed tempting considering that one of the CIOs I worked for received his at Temple University with the company paying. Of course, they insisted he obtain his MBA to be promoted. On top of that, I knew a few other friends who were getting their degrees online. Seemed like an easy way to get a quick degree.

When I brought it up to a few other friends who already had their MBAs or were thinking about pursuing them, they convinced me not to try. One guy I knew worked as an architect in a life insurance company. He commented how he did nothing with his degree. Another person I met, who was a director of technology at a prominent online dating service, felt that getting an MBA or a masters even was pretty much useless. And one other friend mentioned that unless you received your MBA from a top 10/25 university, you pretty much were wasting your time and money.

Looking at how things turned out, the MBA itself probably would do me little good at this point. Most of my intention for getting an MBA would be for the social network and prestige (I wanted to get mine at USC). However, the cost and my age felt more like deterrents. More importantly, I already have a solid career in technology so an MBA from anything outside a top 10/25 would do me little good (perhaps impacting me in a very negative manner).

But that just concerns an MBA. What about other masters degrees? The only two other possibilities I’ve considered are an MFA from a spot like Columbia University or a computer science degree. When I heavily considered the reasoning for a computer science degree, I ended up discarding the idea. The thing about computer science for myself is that I lack some of the mathematical and algorithm heavy background that can ding me during certain interviews (like at a Google, Amazon or Facebook). Yet why pursue a degree when you’ll simply be down $100k+ for two years and not taking home any income during that period? I’ve managed to get fairly decent paying jobs without knowing every single aspect of computer science so getting a degree just to work for a company sounds like false reasoning. You’re honestly better off just studying for the areas you’re weak in on your own.

So what about the MFA? The MFA was more of a very personal decision. A while back I wanted to pursue an MFA after college to help me focus more on my writing. However, a highly discouraging talk with one of a few instructors at UCI left me heavily doubting making a go for the degree. The MFA can’t really “teach you” writing. I feel that someone like myself won’t really learn much from entering into a program like that. The one takeaway from an instructor about pursuing the MFA is the community aspect. Now, that’s something I feel would have a profound impact upon my writing. That said, originally I wanted a scholarship and felt that the program’s 2-3 year period would endow me the ability to produce a novel. Unfortunately, these programs really aren’t designed in such a manner; in short, it’s not “free” money that you can conjure up to do your writing.

In general though, my own experiences have led me to the conclusion that graduate programs are very specific and that you have to be certain about why you want to enter into one. There’s a lot of “professional students” who I feel end up going this route because they are somewhat scared of choosing a profession. But that’s not a good enough reason. Going for a masters or PhD implies that you are extremely focused on what you want and that a school has the perfect program for what you intend to pursue.

Certainly, there are career paths that require a masters or higher level degree (such as a researcher). But for the average graduate who already is working, these degrees are pretty much a waste of time and money. It’s far better to put your money into yourself and use existing resources like the internet to fill in the gaps of knowledge. These degrees are not necessarily tickets just for higher paying jobs.

But of course if your company offers to compensate you, by all means take advantage of it while you can.